Silence in the Court! The Art of Being an Advocate

In a few days, the law school will be a riot of noise as the 3Ls start the three-week intensive advocacy course. In those three-weeks the students will learn the fine art of advocacy by performing advocacy exercises for members of the bench and bar. They will receive real time feedback and start to develop their own unique advocacy voice. The development of an advocate is continual as we hone our style and abilities on a daily basis. It is through interaction with others we become advocates. This course is preparation for that life-long journey.

Advocacy is not just a matter of projecting one’s oral attributes but involves the ability to remain quiet at just the right moment. Appreciating when it is time to speak and when it is not, is as much a skill as cross-examination. Silence in advocacy comes in many forms. It involves the timing of pauses in that “killer” cross-examination as much as it involves waiting for your turn to speak during argument. How you carry yourself during those quieter moments is also a mark of good advocacy. Silence in the courtroom is, therefore, something to learn and to practice in order to be an effective and successful advocate.

An advocate should not feel pressured to cross examine or re-examine a witness in every case but silence can be a bar to raising an issue on appeal. An objection unmade is an objection lost. Sometimes silence is not golden but is perceived as acquiescence. It must be used like any other advocacy tool - at the right place and at the right time for maximum effect.

Silence is also equated with brevity. Good advocacy is also knowing when to stop speaking. An argument is not made stronger or more persuasive by repetition. Neither does it ring truer. Much of law school is geared toward teaching students to be succinct, to the point and brief, both in writing and in speech. In R v Royz, 2009 SCC 13, Justice Binnie, in an oral judgment, eloquently suggests that “brevity is the soul of a jury charge” where the key function is to “decant and simplify,” as recommended by Chief Justice Lamer in R v Jacquard1997 CanLII 374 (SCC). Lawyers should heed this advice as well, be they declaiming on a legal issue or urging a jury to acquit.

Listening, as a silent activity, is also an important part of advocacy. Students will come to realize that the next question is predicated on that active silence. Preparation is important but so is flexibility. Creating an examination of a witness is an exercise in adaptive listening. A good advocate must be open to different avenues of presentation should the matter require it. However, an advocate must be able to recognize when those avenues are there. Seeing is hearing. Hearing is listening. Listening requires silence.

In a few days, the din of the hallways will recede as the students close the doors of their classrooms and practice their art and their profession. I will walk those quiet hallways with a sincere wish that the students will find their professional voice in the presence, not the absence, of silence.